“The first human transplant on human cadavers has been done. A full head swap between brain dead organ donors is the next stage. And that is the final step for the formal head transplant for a medical condition which is imminent.”
With that announcement today at a news conference in Vienna and reported in The Telegraph and USA Today, Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero claims he is ready to do what he’s been promising for years – transplant the head of a living human onto the body of a brain-dead donor. This is just months after he claimed success with rats, even though the new-headed rodents died within a month, which experts said was too little time for nerves to successfully grow back together. Also, there was some question whether the spinal cords were completely severed to begin with.
Dr. Canavero obviously learned his lessons from that experiment and performed his next operation using corpses that couldn’t die again and cast doubts on his results. He claimed the 18-hour ‘rehearsal’ ended with one cadaver body getting a new head and having its spinal cord and blood vessels connected. By ‘connected’ he means glued together with his special technique of using a solution containing polyethylene glycol, a plastic with binding properties.
Of course, there was no electrical jolt applied to start the heart and see if the plumbing had any leaks, so this connection was a ‘success’ only in the loosest of terms. A better test will be the next step involving transplanting a brain-dead head on the body of another brain-dead human. Gruesome? Yes. Proof of success? A little closer. Unethical? Canavero and his team perform these operations in China, where ethical standards are apparently lower than in the U.S. or Europe.